MARC BRUFFETT HAD A LOT of years of college to his credit when he went to work for Toll Brothers, but his undergraduate design degree and MBA from Cornell University were just the beginning of his education. For 16 months, he was immersed in the company's most intensive training program, its assistant project manager (APM) training, which he kicked off with a stint in the internal auditing department.

It was a move he calls brilliant because it offered him company-wide breadth in policies and performance criteria before plunging him into the depths of project management.

“When you're an APM trainee in auditing, you get to see, in glorious detail, what you'll be graded on for your entire Toll career before you get immersed in a project,” Bruffett says. “It was great.”

It may be great, but it's also grueling. Bruffett visited 30 communities in seven divisions before going on site to help auditors assess such factors as how quickly project managers paid their trade contractors and how their profitability reports matched up to actual costs.

APM CERTIFIED: Marc Bruffett says Toll's 16-month assistant project manager training program offered him the company-wide preparation he needed. Assistant project manager training is the starting point for every project manager at Toll Brothers, says Jon Downs, vice president of human resources. It's a system that was instituted by Bob Toll, who, “had an Ivy League law degree, but started in the trenches,” Downs says.

“When we hire [new college graduates], they've spent six to seven years in classes, and it's all very theoretical,” he says. “We immediately throw them into the field and teach them the real world.”

Learning The Ropes The training program is critical because project managers have profit and loss responsibilities for multimillion-dollar budgets.

“We try to train our project managers to not be construction managers, but to be well-rounded real estate professionals,” Downs says. “They're cycled through different disciplines that ultimately are all the disciplines a project manager of a community will handle.”

For Bruffett, that included a month in an on-site sales trailer, including weekends, learning the options manual and studying the competition. He also scheduled trade contractors, walked houses at every stage of inspection, learned about marketing, and worked on land acquisition.

The project manager system is actively promoted by the company to its demanding, luxury home buyers. Responsible for virtually everything in the community and available to buyers seven days a week, the project manager has to be well versed in every step in the process.